Posts Tagged With: marsh wren

Balancing Act

Watching birds has the potential to generate human interest along many different planes. On a very basic level, the sheer beauty of a bird can cause us to sigh in appreciation, or is it jealousy? Some of us have a more scientific curiosity about how flight is possible or how can a duck float or why does a hummingbird seem to change colors. Birding can be a good fit for other outdoor pursuits such as camping, hiking, fishing, boating or photography. At the extreme edge of watching birds is competition. Back in the days of no computers or cell phones and precious little printed instruction, I would make a pencil mark beside birds I had observed in a pocket version of Roger Tory Peterson’s “Field Guide To The Birds”. I was happy. Then I agreed to participate in my first Audubon annual Christmas Bird Count. The fellow who was our team leader was unlike any “bird-watcher” I had ever encountered. Let’s just say he could have been a very effective sports coach – or military drill sergeant.

The ensuing years have seen the evolution of a relaxing pastime into a competitive obsession for some. With the advent of computer-maintained lists, rare bird alerts, hotlines, locally maintained listservs, guide businesses (with rare bird “guarantees”) – this ain’t Hank Thoreau’s hobby no more!

Of course, chasing birds to add to a “life list”, especially uncommon species, can be expensive (and not just monetarily). Some have spent life savings on optical equipment, travel expenses and specialty gear to add a rarity to their list. Others have done all that and missed a child’s graduation, a daughter’s wedding, sacrificed a marriage. That’s extreme!

Naturally, I have achieved a balance between enjoying bird-watching and keeping track of the species I’ve observed over the years. It’s tempting sometimes to drive six hours in the hope a seldom seen bird will wait for me to arrive, but common sense prevails. Nothing is worth going THAT crazy about chasing!

(UPDATE: I stand corrected. I just wandered by the living room and glimpsed Gini on the love seat. I would eagerly circumnavigate the world and beyond just to smooch the firmament upon which she stands.)

Zero-four-thirty. That’s early. And it’s really dark, too. The email said let’s go see if the Smooth-billed Ani is still at Viera Wetlands. It’s only a two-hour drive. I have never seen a Smooth-billed Ani. Besides, that’s a nice area to go birding even without seeing a Smooth-billed Ani. Gini says, go, have fun. She’ll sleep in. Common sense personified.

Anis are fairly common in the Caribbean and there used to be a small breeding population in South Florida. Burgeoning human development and the accompanying habitat destruction has drastically reduced the species’ numbers, if not extirpated it completely from the state. The ani is in the same family as cuckoos and consumes mostly insects but won’t turn down ripe fruit.

Close examination of the target field yielded no rare bird. No worries, Viera Wetlands is a wonderful place to leisurely drive and walk and find lots of birds! A couple of hours yielded 60 species which included a Limpkin with a young chick, a large flock of American White Pelicans, tons of water birds and as a bonus a Great Horned Owl. As we pulled out of the wetlands, a dozen birders lined the field where the ani had been spotted in previous days. Alas, they reported no sighting this morning. We birded a spot a few miles away and returned about an hour later. The group of birders had grown to at least 30 and they were all standing and pointing to a clump of Brazilian Pepper. There it was! My first Smooth-billed Ani! If only I could wedge myself between the guy with the $10,000 spotting scope and the guy with $20,000 worth of camera stuff. No use. These guys were pros and knew they were in the best spot. I slunk down the road, found a spot to sit in the grass and hoped my puny lens would focus today. Then bird karma intervened. The Smooth-billed Ani fluttered onto a slender limb nearby and spent the next ten minutes preening and watching the watchers. Adrenalin can make your shutter finger shake.

After a lunch of fresh seafood, we wandered around a few nearby parks and found some good birds to round out a special day of birding. A missed turn took us down a road which yielded another rare bird, a Short-tailed Hawk! It’s estimated there are less than 250 breeding pairs of this magnificent raptor remaining in Florida. Talk about icing on the bird-watcher’s cake!

Without further ado, the Smooth-billed Ani (and a few of his closest friends):

 

The Smooth-billed Ani was a very cooperative subject for the dozens of paparazzi on hand. It would occasionally disappear into the dense ground cover to forage but always returned to the only clump of vegetation in the field. Pretty convenient for birders. Judging by the appearance of the tail, I suspect this individual is molting and may be the reason it hasn’t flown away yet.

Viera Wetlands

vIERA wETLANDS

 

The first rays of sun and a lingering ground fog combined to give this female Common Yellowthroat a sort of ethereal look.

Viera Wetlands

 

It’s hard not to gawk at the shocking pink of a Roseate Spoonbill. Of course, be prepared to be gawked right back!

Viera Wetlands

 

Lots of Ring-necked Ducks were enjoying the wetlands and have apparently become accustomed to the busy human presence.

Viera Wetlands

 

A Limpkin keeps a watchful eye on its chick as the youngster learns to find and extract yummy Apple Snails from their not so protective shells.

Viera Wetlands

 

Great Blue Herons flock (pun intended) to this place for breeding as the numerous palm trees make perfect nesting sites.

Viera Wetlands

 

A male Hooded Merganser is really showy with that white hood and bright golden eye. He and his mate spent more time with their heads under water than above.

Viera Wetlands

Viera Wetlands

 

It’s becoming more difficult to find a Mottled Duck which does not have some characteristics of a Mallard. The inter-breeding may eventually wipe out the wild Mottled Duck altogether.

Viera Wetlands

 

I’m used to seeing large numbers of Lesser Scaup in the winter on our larger lakes but in the quiet waters of these small ponds this single bird was content to hang with the above Mottled Duck.

Viera Wetlands

 

I seem to have a knack for photographing peek-a-boo birds. Oh, well. A peeking Marsh Wren is better than none at all.

Viera Wetlands

 

Savannah Sparrows are typically our most numerous winter sparrow. They usually have no problem posing for the patient photographer.

Viera Wetlands

 

Since beauty is in the eye of the beholder and I am the beholder here, I think this plain female Brown-headed Cowbird is beautiful. So there.

Viera Wetlands

 

Early in the morning, we spotted this Great Horned Owl trying to snooze in a palm tree. Later on, as we were ogling the ani, the owl slipped onto the top of a light pole behind the conga line of birders snapping pics of the visitor from the tropics. I wondered if the owl was also ogling the ani?

Viera Wetlands

Viera Wetlands

Viera Wetlands

 

After lunch, we visited a park on the shore of the Indian River (just a few miles from the Atlantic Ocean on Florida’s east coast) and found a manatee who refused to pose for me. I consoled myself with shots of a Great Egret looking for a handout and a very young Brown Pelican. I managed one flight shot of an adult Brown Pelican while still sulking about that manatee.

Viera Wetlands

Indian River

Indian River

 

A missed turn. A red light. A glance upward. Short-tailed Hawk! Find a place to park! Snap 20 quick images! This raptor occurs in dark and light versions. In this light individual, it looks like it’s wearing a helmet.

Brevard County

 

 

Once again I was able to maintain a perfect balance of relaxing bird-watching and common sense. Okay, okay. I went bonkers for a little while and chased a rare bird across the state, sat down on an ant mound, got so many burrs on my pants you couldn’t see the pants, got so nervous about taking a photograph my hands shook – and would do it all again tomorrow. Hopefully, you will soon have the same experience!

 

Enjoy your search for a natural place and come back soon for a visit!

Categories: Birds, Florida, Photography, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 12 Comments

Leftovers

It’s time to show you my favorite photographs from blogging during the past year!

Relax. Not really. I already did that to you once. And you were all very kind. Thank you for that!

If you’ve been paying attention, you already know (or strongly suspect) that I’m more of a contrarian than a conformist. So instead of trying to determine which images I liked the best, I shall serve you a heaping dish of leftovers. Scraps. Remains. Dregs. Residue. Leavings. Remnants. Stuff acquired during 2015 which didn’t quite fit into a nice, neat blogging category. Maybe it was a picture from a Sunday drive or a single image from a trip where no other suitable images were made or a snapshot from the back yard.

For those of you who have never participated in that grandest of American feasting holidays, Thanksgiving, I’m sorry. Typically, our extended family (along with friends who we think of as family) meet at a central location and everyone brings food to share. The table is usually overburdened with roast turkey, ham, sweet potatoes, green beans, corn, pies, cakes … it’s quite a spectacle. At the end of the day, any food items remaining are parceled out for those who are interested in taking them home. In my estimation, one of the few things better than roast turkey on Thanksgiving Day is a turkey sandwich the next day. And to enjoy that sandwich on the edge of a lake with Gini by my side while we count migrating ducks, well, that’s something special.

No sooner had we cleaned out the refrigerator of Thanksgiving leftovers than Christmas arrived. In my estimation, one of the few things better than roast ham on Christmas Day is a ham sandwich the next day. And to enjoy it on the edge of a lake…. (you know the rest).

One week later. Happy New Year! Now, although a leftover sandwich made from a standing rib roast is really good (especially to enjoy it on the edge of a lake, etc.), Gini is able to turn the remaining meat and bones into a pot of heavenly harmony affectionately known as “hash”. Originating from the French for “to cut or chop”, Gini’s hash contains the aforementioned remnants of a superb roast, including bones, onions, carrots, celery, garlic, mushrooms and ingredients so secret even the government doesn’t know about them. Just the aroma of her hash being warmed has been known to make grown men weep and Southern Women swoon. It’s that good.

Well, all of the above culinary delights are now but a memory and the food planning calendar contains a lot of salad and bean items. Sigh. Before the glow fades from these fond memories, I offer you a platter of luminous leftovers. Don’t forget your napkin.

Enjoy.

 

The Red-tailed Hawk is one of the largest hawk species in North America and has been observed in an amazing range of plumages. From almost all black to almost all light-colored, the signature brick red tail is usually present in adult birds. Where better to find one of our most beautiful raptors than hiking around all day in summer at – the local landfill. (The sacrifices I make for you all.)

North Central Landfill

Red-tailed Hawk

 

Also known as “traffic warden”, this Eastern Phoebe reminds visitors to get out and walk.

Saddle Creek Park

Eastern Phoebe

 

For those with acute hearing (which would NOT be me), the Sedge Wren readily announces his location. The problem is once you find his location, he usually remains hidden deep within the reeds. This one couldn’t resist taking a peek at the guy in the camouflage shirt which he could CLEARLY SEE. (I must get my money back.)

McKendree Road

Sedge Wren

 

I stooped to new lows this past year to locate damsels in distress. This Variable Dancer remained motionless for a micro-second and a single shutter click captured a gorgeous miniature ballerina.

Mosaic FMA

Variable Dancer (Argia fumipennis)

 

When Little Blue Herons are young, they are white. As the year progresses, they begin to show their slaty plumage bit by bit and it’s common to spot “calico” herons in the marsh. This fellow had an itch and is sporting the latest teen hairdo so popular in today’s heron society.

Lake Gwyn

Little Blue Heron – Immature

 

An artsy moment in which I search for my roots.

Saddle Creek Park

Roots

 

Short-tailed Hawks (Buteo brachyurus) are not common in North America and probably number less than 500 in Florida. This small tropical hawk usually soars quite high (often above vultures) and drops quickly and unexpectedly to capture small songbirds. This is the first one I’ve ever seen perched. There are two forms, light (as pictured) and an all dark morph.

Saddle Creek Park

Short-tailed Hawk

 

A Wood Stork and White Ibis may share a perch but they don’t have to speak to each other.

McKendree Road

White Ibis, Wood Stork

 

Visitors are surprised to learn there are hills and valleys in Florida. Okay, they aren’t very dramatic, but parts of the state are not as flat as most think. This pasture land is only about a half hour from our house and is prime habitat for one of our favorite birds …..

Pasco County

Trilby Road Pasture

 

Burrowing Owls love the open, closely cropped fields found in pastures. Within a couple of square miles of this burrow were eight additional burrows, all with one or two owlets last year. Here, Mom stands guard while the two youngsters begin to explore around the burrow entrance. They quickly learn to use those big eyes to scan the sky often. Hawks eat little owls.

Pasco County

Burrowing Owl

 

It has been amazing to discover the world of dragons! Incredible diversity of colors, expert hunters, dedicated parents, acrobatic fliers – and to think they spend their first three or four years under water! This Roseate Skimmer is one of the more colorful members of the species.

Lake Gwyn

Roseate Skimmer – Male (Orthemis ferruginea)

 

The American Redstart is seen in our area only during spring and fall migration. They flash their tails and wings frequently as they move through a tree’s foliage to flush insects from hiding.

Saddle Creek Park

American Redstart – Female

Saddle Creek Park

American Redstart – male

 

Although the Sedge Wren above likes to remain hidden, the Marsh Wren aggressively jumps out of the weeds to see who’s invading his territory. A lot of attitude for his size!

Saddle Creek Park

Marsh Wren

 

This immature Wood Stork isn’t as handsome as the adult yet (okay, maybe there’s no difference), but he still can’t help but admire himself as he quenches his thirst.

Banana Lake Park

Wood Stork

 

Almost any visit to the marsh offers a vision in pink overhead. The Roseate Spoonbill is hard to miss in clear sky.

Lake Gwyn

Roseate Spoonbill

 

A trip to refill the back yard bird bath revealed a surprise. A Cooper’s Hawk, who usually invites birds to dinner, decided to try squirrel for a change of pace. He was polite enough to wait to begin his meal until I returned with the camera.

Polk County

Cooper’s Hawk

 

Even though the population of the Red-headed Woodpecker has declined significantly over the past 25 years, it has been a bit encouraging to discover they are nesting successfully in good numbers in our area. Hopefully, they will continue to stage a comeback.

Lake Garfield

Red-headed Woodpecker

 

Our community hosts a modest farmer’s market every Saturday and it’s a nice way to find locally produced goods. There is often a good selection of organic fruits and vegetables. We even have a train that goes through the center of town. (Much to the chagrin of commuters every day.)

Lakeland Market

Market

Lakeland Market

Tomatoes

Lakeland Market

Produce

Lakeland Market

Peaches

Lakeland Market

Pastry

Lakeland Market

Flowers

Lakeland Market

Produce

Lakeland Market

Train

 

 

Well, we hope you enjoyed your leftovers this year! I’m already dreaming of Gini’s hash for next year. After such a feast, there’s only one sensible thing to do —

Rolling Woods Lane

Mourning Dove

 

We hope you enjoy your search for a natural place and come back for a visit!

Categories: Birds, Florida, Photography, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 34 Comments

Blog at WordPress.com.

%d bloggers like this: